Everyone is unique, but at the same time we are all the same.
Between those not-very-useful extremes, personality theories can help us group people together according to various traits.
Temperament is one way of grouping people. It’s useful because it reflects salient features of personality that we can observe in everyday life.
Without a system like the four temperaments we have to treat each individual as “same but different” to an unknown degree.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of temperament you can quickly and easily identify what drives a person and hence how they are likely to act and interact.
We can tell that some people are “pushy” because they push us. It’s self-evident.
But have you ever been caught by surprise when someone who never pushed before, someone you thought you knew well, suddenly turns around and starts pushing hard?
If you don’t understand the temperaments you might take friendliness and shared interests at face value and think “this person is like me, we’re on the same page” and then be totally flummoxed when they do or say something that you would never do or say.
The fact is that people of different temperaments can have aligned interests or values in one aspect of life, but be completely different and at odds in every other way.
Melancholic vs Choleric
I’ve had my own share of experiences where I mistook friendship and shared values and interests to mean a shared understanding and similar personality.
But as a melancholic my interests and values always tended towards idealism while my choleric friends were always interested in ambition and standing.
As a melancholic my ideal of friendship is a deep personal connection with another individual. But for some cholerics friendship is more about having an entourage of useful and affirming people behind them.
As a melancholic my ideal of leadership is taking responsibility and making decisions in the best interests of the group. But for some cholerics that ideal is tempered by the perks and power of leadership for its own sake.
A choleric who seeks leadership does so because it’s a desirable position for him to hold. A melancholic who reluctantly takes leadership does it because no one else is willing, able, or competent enough.
These days I can pick people’s temperaments almost immediately. The more extreme they are, the easier to pick. And conversely the harder they are to pick, the more balanced and easy to get along with they are.
When I pick someone as choleric it means I know not to take offence if they say or do something that seems rude or arrogant from my point of view.
It means I don’t expect them to make idealistic decisions, so I’m not surprised when they do things that I would regard as impossibly cynical or pragmatic.
I’m aware that with some cholerics I’m being quickly and quietly assessed for my usefulness to them, and I make a point of not being useful 😅
But I also respect cholerics who have genuine skill, knowledge and expertise, and I have even greater respect for those who work against their ingrained pride and temper themselves.
I still have several choleric friends, and knowing them has deepened my appreciation for the variations within that temperament, while keeping in mind the basic nature of cholerics generally has helped me understand these individuals and avoid the conflicts that arise when I assume other people think like me.